Wyoming football: State of the Offense
LARAMIE -- "Re-engineered."
If you're a Wyoming fan, that word triggers certain emotions. What started as a brilliant idea for a stagnant Wyoming offense morphed into a punchline after the Cowboys' finished 10th in the Mountain West in passing.
That was supposed to be fixed.
Sean Chambers completed just 50.8% of his throws. Levi Williams connected on just 60. Those numbers won't cut it, especially when this team threw the ball less than 23 times per game.
UW hit rock bottom in this category when Chambers completed just 8-of-23 throws and Williams entered in relief to hook up on one pass on seven of his attempts in a 17-0 home blanking at the hands of Fresno State.
When it was good, the numbers weren't eye-popping. They don't need to be, either.
In an unexpected 44-17 victory over the eventual conference champs, Utah State, Williams was true on a dozen passes. He threw the ball just 15 times. That's an 80% completion rate. The sophomore eclipsed the 240-yard mark through the air and tossed a pair of touchdown passes. His only blemish was a red-zone interception. It was an amazing play, courtesy of a diving Shaq Bond.
"Efficiency," second-year offensive coordinator Tim Polasek said. "You know, efficiency is so critical. You know, as far as re-engineering, coach (Craig) Bohl had a simple expectation -- just for us to be more efficient in the pass game."
What went wrong?
Polasek said the answer is simple.
"When you look back at the tape this summer -- I didn't take much of a vacation -- you know, the disappointing part is we just missed too many shots down the field," he said. "I don't think it was, you know, the re-engineering. I mean, guys have to go make plays."
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Chambers and Williams bolted this offseason. The former is now at Montana State with former OC Brent Vigen. The latter now calls Logan, Utah home.
While Williams left for the Cowboys' rival, UW took a flyer on a former Aggie signal caller that found himself as the odd man out, Andrew Peasley.
Though the UW staff has yet to name an opening-day starter, it's becoming the worst-kept secret in Cowboy Country.
Peasley is the only quarterback on the roster with any experience. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound junior appeared in nine games last fall. He completed nearly 55% of his passes and tossed three touchdowns. He added a 59-yard jaunt to the end zone and helped lead Utah State to six wins.
Polasek didn't say Peasley will be the guy Aug. 27 at Illinois, but he did say he's beginning to separate himself from the pack.
"Just, you like his approach. That's the No. 1 thing you like about him," Polasek said. "Then, I think, there's an ability there to play a little bit. He plays poised, off schedule. You know, he gets bounced out of the pocket, or if he gets bounced off of his first two reads, he has a way about just finding a check down. He doesn't freak out and just run out of there. I just like his willingness to understand the situation."
Polasek said if you pay attention to the NFL game, check downs are prevalent. He's already seen plenty of that throughout his 22 practices with Peasley.
"I think we've gotten two times the amount of check downs," he said. "Now, the defense is saying, 'That's OK.' Well, 2nd-and-6 is better than 2nd-and-10. Second-and-3 is tough to deal with for those guys. So, I really like that part of his game."
Peasley isn't a one-trick pony, either. During parts of four seasons in Logan, the Oregon product rushed for 501 yards on 57 attempts. That's an average of nearly nine yards per carry. He added three touchdowns, too.
"I don't know if we want to necessarily bank on that, but I think that's a nice thing to have in your back pocket," Polasek said of Peasley's running ability. "You have a guy who's not going to freak out and make a really bad decision. Will he throw an interception this year? Yeah. But I think his ability to stay within himself is going to be the key for him to be as good as he can be."
Wyoming didn't just lose both starting quarterbacks from a season ago, it also watched its leading receiver and running back transfer to Texas and Arizona State, respectively.
Polasek and Co. think the backfield situation is a solid one. Xazavian Valladay did cap his career on the High Plains as the school's second all-time leading rusher, but Titus Swen has shown a rare combination of speed and toughness between the tackles. Dawaiian McNeely has also displayed a burst in his sample-size workload.
"I like where we're at in the run game," he said. "We know who we are. We know what we want to get accomplished there."
Wide receiver, however, is a different story.
Isaiah Neyor caught a team-best 44 passes for 878 yards and 12 receiving touchdowns. He also added a score on the ground. He now wears burnt orange. That leaves the remaining pass catchers on this roster with a grand total of 32 catches for 338 yards and a touchdown. Twenty-five of those grabs came from Joshua Cobbs alone. So did 245 yards and that score.
Is Polasek concerned?
"Honestly, it's just different," he said. "... Our top five or six are out there, you feel pretty good about them being in the right spots. The depth of that group, the understanding and, I think, that togetherness -- I'll keep coming back to that -- is going to be so important."
Wyatt Wieland and Alex Brown are the only other receivers, aside from Gunner Gentry, who have a catch at the FBS level. Gentry will return this fall after missing the entire 2021 season with a torn patellar tendon in his knee.
How about the offensive line?
Bohl said the Cowboys don't yet have an answer for the back-up tackle spot, but did lay out who he thinks could be on that starting unit in Champaign. Eric Abojei has made the move from guard to left tackle. Emmanuel Pregnon will slide into Abojei's vacated spot and Nofoafia Tulafono will take over for Keegan Cryder at center. Jack Walsh could be the starting right guard and Frank Crum will man that edge.
Compared to this time a year ago, Polasek said leaders have begun to emerge, despite this being the third-youngest roster in college football. He pointed at Abojei and Crum being two of those guys. He said that all begins with the tight end room, though, which consists of veterans like Jackson Marcotte, Colin O'Brien, Parker Christensen and Treyton Welch.
Polasek said quite simply, this offense can improve immensely by simply not beating itself. He pointed to last season's meeting with Boise State. That night inside Albertsons Stadium, Wyoming committed eight penalties for 50 yards worth of damage.
Azizi Hearn jumped offsides on a field-goal attempt late in the first quarter. That turned a 4th-and-2 into seven points two plays later when Riley Smith hauled in a two-yard touchdown pass.
A false start turned a manageable 3rd-and-2 into a 3rd-and-7 on the Cowboys' opening drive. The punt came one play later. More early movement derailed the third possession of the night.
Then, there was the turnover.
Driving midway through the fourth quarter and trailing by just six, Williams tossed an interception into the awaiting arms of Demitri Washington. Two snaps later, the Broncos were in the end zone.
Boise State 23, Wyoming 13
"We have to learn how not to beat ourselves in this program, offensively," Polasek said, referring to that loss on the blue turf. "We played them. We had seven controllable penalties. Well, that's seven drives that are gone now and those are opportunities that we don't get to go out there and try. So, I think, for this offense to take the next step forward, it's all about us maximizing each drive and not hurting ourselves and making the defense beat us."
On the opening play of the 2021 campaign, Polasek called for a deep ball over the middle. It didn't connect. Will we see that again against the Illini in 22 days?
"I don't know the answer to that yet," he laughed. "I've got time to think about it. We have a plan for Illinois already. We'll see how it goes."